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Microsoft Brings Skype from Living Room to Board Room

The Microsoft purchase gives Skype established credibility with business customers

Microsoft rocked the tech world and stole the spotlight on the opening day of Google's I/O conference with the announcement that it is buying Skype for $8.5 billion. The news may make some consumers anxious about the future of Skype, but for IT leadership the Microsoft purchase means that Skype has new credibility as a business tool.

Microsoft has committed to continued support of Skype as a cross-platform tool, so users on Linux, or Mac OS X, or Android, or iOS, or other platforms can breathe a collective sigh of relief. For business customers, though, the Microsoft purchase makes Skype more viable as a cost-effective tool for VoIP calls, video chat, and mobile communications.

John Kindervag, an senior analyst for security and risk management with Forrester, says that the growing mobile workforce means that businesses need a low-cost service like Skype. They've been reluctant to use Skype because of its "hacker" roots, but Microsoft alleviates those concerns and gives Skype credibility in the board room.

Skype is an established entity--virtually synonymous with free or cheap voice calls and video chat via the Internet. The Microsoft press release announcing the Skype purchase states, "With 170 million connected users and over 207 billion minutes of voice and video conversations in 2010, Skype has been a pioneer in creating rich, meaningful connections among friends, families and business colleagues globally."

While the business colleagues part may be right, Skype has had a harder time gaining acceptance with the businesses themselves. Small and medium businesses often adopt consumer technologies as cost-effective alternatives to commercial tools aimed specifically at business, so they may not be strangers to Skype.

I have also used Skype for internal team meetings, and I have used Skype to conduct interviews for television news. Skype is virtually everywhere, but companies have not felt safe officially embracing it. Microsoft changes that.

Just in the past month, Skype has made headlines with poor security configuration of its Android app exposing personal information on smartphones, and a dangerous flaw in the Mac OS X client that open the system to malware compromise. News like that does not make business customers rush out to adopt a technology.

There was growing speculation that Skype was going to be acquired by either Google or Facebook. But, according to Kindervag, those deals would not have obtained the same credibility with business customers that the Microsoft deal provides. "Skype is better off with Microsoft as it positions it as a business play while still giving it consumer access. Both Facebook and Google are consumer brands that don't really resonate at the enterprise level."

For Microsoft, the tools, services, and intellectual property of Skype greatly expand its capabilities and position Microsoft to go head to head with Cisco for video-conferencing for business customers, and enable it to compete with Apple's FaceTime for mobile video chat.


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